It’s time to stop adding shots to your shot list just for coverage — and start using your camera like a curious child seeking answers.
Cover image via The Film Look.
If you have ever been the director of photography on a project, you’ve probably had to create a shot list. “What shots do I need, and where? Do I have enough coverage? Can I pull these shots off?” — these are all typical questions that run through your mind when planning a shot list. Most shot lists simply detail proper coverage — or all the shots necessary to give the editor plenty of material from enough angles to correctly edit a scene. But composing your shots like this lack a certain . . . motivation. There’s no reason for the shots — only to get close-ups and wides of the action.
So . . . what if you approached your shot list in a different way? What if the camera were to become an active participant in how viewers perceive your film? Our friends over at The Film Look recently dove into how you can approach your cinematography in a different way.
Changing Your Perspective on The Camera
Instead of thinking of your camera as a tool to capture certain angles, try to consider the scene like a “curious child” — a naive outsider viewing the action. When a curious child sees something, it immediately wants to start making sense of it. In the video, the actor randomly breaks out into dance. The camera stays stationary because it is originally shocked at the sudden outburst. But after a careful few seconds of patient observation, the perspective shifts to a close-up. This is the “child” becoming more interested in the action — and wanting a better look. Then we come in with a sweeping dolly shot that mimics the “child” moving closer to get up close and personal with the action.
Disclosing Information On-screen
Another tenet of the “curious child” metaphor is that, just like a child, the camera doesn’t always tell the truth, and it doesn’t always tell you everything straightaway. Some shots are meant to mislead the audience into thinking one thing, but later they come to be something completely different.
In the video example, the introduction sequence is a bunch of close-ups that suggest what the viewer should expect in the coming short, but they don’t include all of the information about the scene (because that would just be boring). It’s like a child trying to make sense of their surroundings — they won’t get everything at first, but after getting their bearings, they become fully invested.
You can ascribe this feeling of trying to make sense of a new world to the final shot, as well. Suddenly, the main character is sitting on an electric chair. The “child” immediately wants to try and connect what is happening, which we see reflected in quick-moving close-ups on the hands, chains, and restraints in the scene. Once the “child” has gained perspective and understanding, the scene slowly starts zooming out farther and farther to provide more information.
This new perspective on camera work can be incredibly helpful when you are stuck at your desk, straining over a storyboard. Change your perspective a bit. Sometimes, a simplistic approach is more cinematic than a complex one.
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